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Welcome to OpenForum.  We love plays that start a good conversation and there are many ways and places to have that conversation! This is your one-stop place to join in on the discussions going on about all the shows at Forum.

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A Call for Engagement

Posted on May 25, 2017 in Building the Wall

On Friday, May 19th, Forum hosted a post-performance Talk Tank discussion following Building the Wall.  The panel featured Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a board member with the ACLU of Maryland, and Jamie Stiehm, a syndicated columnist with Creators and an opinion contributor for US News & World Report. Michael Feldman (@ArtsConnectedDC), the principal of Transitions International, moderated the conversation.

Forum’s May 19th Talk Tank conversation came to center on the idea that we, as a society, are struggling to find the language to communicate our shared values and common humanity. This discussion asked how arts, media, and advocacy groups – and all of us - can bridge this gap.

Building the Wall sparked a discussion of what constitutes “complicity in immoral acts,” and what it takes to destroy someone’s moral compass. Panelists and audience members grappled with the choices made by the character of Rick, a disgraced private prison supervisor, to participate in unconscionable actions. The group also agreed on the importance of giving full voice to the victimized Latinx detained persons.

Ajmel stressed that the human suffering and threats to civil liberties as depicted in the play are already taking place in the U.S., including the deaths of detainees through negligence. Both panelists suggested that watchdogs like the ACLU and the media have made progress in upholding our society’s moral standards. Ajmel noted that their role in the fight against U.S. torture and detention practices demonstrated the effectiveness and importance of advocacy groups and the media.

Audience members shared stories about struggling to find enough common ground to have productive conversations about human needs and shared dreams. In response, Jamie and Ajmel stressed the need for continued engagement with these issues in both daily life and the political process. They also underlined that everyone needs to feel heard before anyone will be able to hear and engage with other points of view.  

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Communicating Our Common Humanity

Posted on May 11, 2017 in Building the Wall

On Wednesday, May 3rd, Forum partnered with the Center for American Progress Action Fund to host a post-performance discussion of Building the Wall.

The panel featured:

Tom Jawetz, Vice President, Immigration, Center for American Progress Action Fund

Ali Noorani, Executive Director, National Immigration Forum

Jen Smyers, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Immigration and Refugee Program, Church World Service

Michael Feldman, Principal, Transitions International (Moderator)

Asked about their first reactions to Building the Wall, the panelists each noted the importance of the three-dimensional portrayal of Rick, the disgraced private prison supervisor. They said grasping the point of view represented by this character remains central to understanding the current debate over immigration and other divisions in our political scene. The audience liked the way the play portrayed – without excusing - what gets in the way of people who fail to stop even the most horrific abuses.

The panel thought the play provided a creditable depiction of how creating dehumaned classes of people could lead to abhorrent violations of human rights and dignity. Panelists gave specific examples of real world human suffering happening right now because of both rhetoric and actual policies of dehumanizing and targeting immigrants and refugees. Tom cited reduced numbers of Latinx people – both American citizens and immigrants - reporting domestic abuse, as well as drops in the numbers of people accessing health care, education, social services, and seeking assistance from law enforcement.   

Audience members asked: What can we do to avoid falling into the same trap as the main character?  How can we avoid lapsing into fear and paranoia in reaction to the threats to both civil liberties and innocents, as depicted in the play? And specifically, what actions can citizens take to protect the vulnerable and strengthen those civil liberties and the rule of law?

The panelists responded that the scale and tone of the dehumanizing rhetoric around immigration requires us to dig deep and find language that communicates the most basic tenants of our shared values and common humanity. The panel noted that many faith and community leaders are struggling with how to bridge the gap in empathy. Ali and Jen stressed the importance of reaching out to other points of view, and being prepared to call out and counter dehumanizing rhetoric. Ali summarized the call for engagement by citing the National Immigration Forum’s informal motto: "meet people where they are, but don't leave them there."

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A Perfect Catalyst

Posted on April 24, 2017 in Building the Wall


A note from Forum Artistic Director Michael Dove on the decision to produce BUILDING THE WALL.


Over a year ago, as we were choosing our 2016/17 season, we could sense that the upcoming presidential election would be unlike any other. It was already a part of nearly every conversation in person, online, and in the media. We started to look for scripts that reflected the major themes and polarizing debates amongst the campaigns. Talk of a proposed Muslim ban led us to choose I Call My Brothers for our September show. The conversation about progress in women’s rights as a woman became the first major party candidate inspired the repertory production of What Every Girl Should Know and Dry Land. And then we decided to try an experiment and leave the final slot in our season undecided, allowing us to choose a play that would be responsive to what was happening in the world post-election and post-inauguration. What we didn’t anticipate was just how chaotic and unsure the nation would feel in 2017.


Choosing that final show was the most difficult programming decision I’ve ever faced. Reading script after script, it felt impossible to find the right story that would address the flood of information that we have had to absorb in these last few months. And then we were sent this new play by Robert Schenkkan called Building the Wall. In the tradition of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, here was a piece of speculative fiction that depicted a possible near future for the country under a Trump administration. It felt like the perfect catalyst for the difficult conversations we must face as citizens when it comes to how we secure our borders while retaining our national values and humanity. It’s a perfect fit for both our mission to spark conversation and for our season of responsive stories. It was a no-brainer.

Often, a new play will go through a development process of anywhere from 18 months to three years, but here was a playwright daring us to act with immediacy and stage the script as quickly as possible. Perhaps in these fast-moving political times, we’ll need to find new ways to create work on shorter schedules so that the plays are connected to the urgency of the present moment. As we’ve learned with our Forum (Re)Acts series of new works, the energy of a piece that directly addresses a topic still in the morning’s headlines is unlike anything else. And to create a space for our community to gather and talk about how we move forward towards a better tomorrow is absolutely a role we feel theatre can play.

We are thrilled to produce Building the Wall at Arena Stage from April 27th until May 7th, before its move back to Forum's home in Silver Spring May 18th through the 27th. To produce this work in the home of Zelda Fichandler’s beautiful regional theatre vision is a great blessing.

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We Must Not Cede Our Moral Authority

Posted on April 15, 2017 in Building the Wall

Playwright Robert SchenkkanA note from "Building the Wall" playwright Robert Schenkkan (pictured left) on his inspiration and why it's so important to stage this piece in the nation's capital.

I wrote Building the Wall in late October before the election, but even then it seemed to me that important lines had been crossed in our political system. The naked appeals to racism, nativism, and violence by the then Republican candidate were often dismissed by nervous commentators, and even more nervous Republican political leaders, as just “words.” “He doesn’t really mean it,” we were told. Four months into the new administration and clearly he means it. More worrisome is the manner in which Congressional members who could not hide their distaste for the Candidate are now lining up behind the President.

Let me be very clear, the issues here are not Republican vs. Democrat, or even Liberal vs. Conservative. What we are witnessing is a concerted attack on fundamental American values: separation of powers, freedom of speech, freedom of press, independent judiciary, etc. These are the cornerstones of our democracy and the reason our Republic has succeeded so well for over 200 years. What has happened is Congressional representatives have temporarily “shelved” their allegiance to the Constitution in order to embrace a once in a lifetime opportunity to exercise complete power. We have seen how such temporary moral transactions played out in the past and the results were not pretty. 

None of this is new, of course; the Authoritarian playbook is well known. Create a constant state of crisis that only a “strong” leader can solve. Encourage fear, divide the populace and scapegoat racial or religious minorities and immigrants. Smear your opponents as unpatriotic and attack the Press as “Enemies of the People.” The question, of course, is not so much what the President will do but how all of us – citizens and our representatives - will respond?

This is why it was so important for me to see Forum Theater’s production of Building the Wall produced here in Washington, DC, at the Arena Stage, not two miles from the White House. The vision of the future imagined in this play is reasonable and, indeed, logical. The only thing that stands in its way will be moral resistance by ordinary citizens. This requires two things. First, we must recognize that what is happening right now is not normal. It is human nature to avert our eyes from what is unpleasant, but we must not avoid or deny the reality which is unfolding. Second, moving forward we will all of us be asked directly or indirectly to collaborate with or support what is happening. We must not cede our moral authority to the State. This is critical. The decisions we make must be predicated on clear moral values, not political expediency.

This theatrical argument for individual conscience versus government authority is not new; Aeschylus made the case for it 2,000 years ago in Antigone. Contemporary writers like Arthur Miller, Athol Fugard, Lynn Nottage, and others have frequently and eloquently made the same appeal. This is necessary because the Authoritarian virus never completely dies out. The only cure, then and now, is alert, responsible citizenry.

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How Do We Empower Our Girls?

Posted on April 9, 2017 in #NastyWomenRep

After the Sunday, April 9th Talk Tank, moderator Michael Feldman reflected on the conversation.

Providing accurate reproductive health information is critical, but supportive adult mentors and positive peer networks really make the difference in helping our girls grow into successful women. That was one of the main takeaways from our #NastyWomenRep Talk Tank on Sunday, April 9. The session, held after What Every Girl Should Know, featured Pamela Jones, President and CEO of Crittenton Services, Emily Crofoot, Board Treasurer of DC Abortion Fund, and Devan Shea, ‎Senior Policy and Partnerships Associate at The Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE).  

Forum’s Talk Tank is designed to explore the policy issues underpinning our plays through conversations between policy experts and audiences. This Talk Tank started with the question posed by both Dry Land and What Every Girl Should Know: “how and why are we failing our girls in equipping them to celebrate their own sexuality and control their own bodies so they can shape their own futures and grow into thriving adults?”  

When asked about reactions to the play, all of our panelists felt that the poignant and tragic situations faced by the characters in What Every Girl Should Know are similar to challenges faced by girls in the Washington area today. Panelists and audience members discussed the fact that girls do not feel safe in their schools and in their communities in the D.C. area; this feeling is especially prominent among undocumented young people and those in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods both in D.C. and the suburbs.  Communities with high poverty rates also have higher incidents of violence of all kinds.  In fact, the panel noted that Montgomery County has the country’s highest number of unaccompanied minors.  

The discussion also underlined that society does know what to do to help vulnerable girls – and shared evidence of successes achieved by young women.  Ms. Jones, Ms. Crofoot, and Ms. Shea all stressed that girls need to be safe, physically and emotionally.  They described what their organizations are doing to provide girls (and all young people) with information and access to reproductive health services, and to offer emotional and community support. But everyone agreed that much more needed to be done in order to meet the growing need, especially given the threats to these services posed by changing Federal and state government policies.   One key intervention is giving teens access to consistent, caring, and dependable adult mentors – the critical support that the characters in Dry Land and What Every Girl Should Know lack.  

Throughout the conversation, we returned to the compelling need to achieve equal rights for women and girls.  Our speakers also pointed to the role of men and boys as allies, and stressed that rapid progress toward gender equality ultimately holds the key to reducing the threat of gender-based violence and fostering strong, confident identities in girls and women.  

In many ways, this Tank Talk conversation tracked the long arc and many barriers to achieving gender equity - as framed by the #NastyWomenRep from Margaret Sanger in 1914 in Every Girl to any high school in today’s America in Dry Land.   

Want to learn more? We encourage you to check out the organizations represented by our speakers:

Crittenton Services of Greater Washington empowers teen girls to overcome obstacles, make positive choices, and achieve their goals.

DC Abortion Fund makes grants to pregnant people in the DC area who cannot afford the cost of an abortion.

The Center for Health and Gender Equity advances gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights.

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